Every high schooler in the US knows about (or should know about) the FAFSA—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In fact, a majority of American college students depend on the FAFSA to get financial aid.
There is another financial aid option that not many students know about—the CSS Financial Aid Profile. The CSS Profile is just as important as the FAFSA and can award just as much money for those who are interested in attending a private college.
Here’s everything you need to know about the CSS Financial Aid Profile.
Understanding the CSS Financial Aid Profile & Why Colleges Use It
The CSS Profile is an online financial aid form that is established by the College Board, the same organization that makes the SAT.
The main difference between the FAFSA and the CSS Profile is that the FAFSA is required for awarding any type of federal aid as well as for financial aid from most colleges and states. The CSS Profile is used only for awarding non-federal, institutional financial aid to qualifying students.
Nearly 400 colleges accept the CSS Profile to calculate their financial aid packages. Most of these are private schools, but some state schools use it as well.
In order to be fair in the distribution of their financial aid, colleges require detailed information about your family’s finances. You will find that the CSS Profile asks for more information than the FAFSA does. While it can be tedious and time-consuming, the benefits are well worth it.
There is no one fixed formula for calculating how much financial aid you will get through the CSS Profile. Every college uses a different formula for calculating your need, which means you could qualify for a merit scholarship and generous need-based aid at one school, while at another school you may only earn a merit scholarship.
Information the CSS Profile Asks For
Prospective student who would like to apply for a CSS Profile should have their most recent W-2 forms, tax returns, untaxed income records, small-business information, mortgage statements, and current bank statements. Other stocks, bonds, or trusts will also be requested if you have such documentation. You will need financial documentation from at least two years prior to the year you plan to attend college. All income-related information must be correct on the day of filing your CSS Profile.
You will also need to submit your parents’ income information when filling the form. This can get complicated if your parents are separated or divorced, as most Profile colleges will want to see your stepparents’ incomes as well. This is regardless of which house you live in most of the time.
Should You Apply for a CSS Profile?
If you have your heart set on a private school then you should consider applying for a CSS Profile for your financial aid needs. Even independent and international students may apply for a CSS Profile so long as they want to attend college in the US.
Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile requires applicants to pay to send the report to each Profile college that they apply to. You will have to pay $25 for the first college and $16 for every additional college. If you qualify for a SAT fee waiver though, you will also get your Profile fee waived. This usually applies to students whose parents’ annual income is less than $45,000.
The CSS Profile Application Process
Application is easy. You may sign up via the College Board web site, and if you have already created a profile for the SAT, PSAT, or any other College Board exam, you may use that profile to apply for and sign up for a CSS Profile.
Filling the CSS Profile can be a lengthy process but the information gets saved automatically so if you need to log out and continue the application process later, you can pick up right where you left off. Just keep in mind though that some information may not be changed once it has been completed, so pay attention when you begin the application process.
Should You Fill Out the FAFSA and the CSS Profile?
Yes, you absolutely should. Every student applying to college should fill out the FAFSA regardless of whether or not they are also filling out the CSS Profile. This is because the CSS Profile is applicable only for institutional aid, which is just one type of aid that you can get. The FAFSA on the other hand opens the doors to several other types of financial aid including Pell Grants, scholarships, work-study and low cost federal student loans.